Easy and Delicious Homemade Doner Kebabs, Gyros and Shawarma

What is the difference between a doner kebab, a gyro (pronounced ‘yee-ro’) and shawarma? Not a huge deal, actually. They are all quite similar and all three are delicious. However, whilst similar, there are differences which predominantly have to do with the meat and spices – and who’s doing the cooking!

The words doner, gyro and shawarma all refer in some way to ‘turning’ and reference the fact that the meats are cooked on a rotating spit. In fact, all three have closely related etymologies with gyro being a Greek calque of the Turkish word döner and shawarma being an Arabic rendering of the Turkish word çevirme which means ‘turning’.

Typically, doner kebabs are made from lamb. Gyros were traditionally made from pork but lamb and beef combinations are more commonly found in the UK. And shawarma is usually made of lamb but chicken variations are common. Unlike the ‘chicken doner’, in which thin slices of chicken are skewered and roasted vertically on a spit, the chicken used in shawarma is often minced into a paste before cooking. Once cooked, all three are usually garnished with salad, sauced and served wrapped in some kind of bread.

Wherever you go on the planet, your kebab is going to be different. Essentially similar but the spices, sauces and salad combinations – not to mention the breads – will make, literally, a world of difference.

Our homemade ‘doner kebab’ will be different to the kebabs you are used to but no less delicious all the same. One of the reasons for this is that we will, by necessity, be omitting the key ‘ingredient’ that brings together doner kebabs, gyros and shawarma – the rotation! Unless you already have a rotisserie at home, you will be making do with the oven. However, while this does make a difference to the taste, it does not detract hugely from the overall product. If you like doner kebabs, gyros and shawarma, you will love this homemade version.

The three things that make homemade doner kebabs delicious

You only need to get three things right in order to have delicious doner kebabs at home. The first is a high fat content. This cannot be stressed too heavily: you need fat and lots of it. Think back to the last time you stood mesmerized, staring at the ‘elephant leg’ slowly rotating in your local kebab shop, you will remember watching the melted fat pouring down the meat. In order to get our meat fatty enough we are going to have to help it out a bit. And how do we help our meat get fatty? We do the same thing we do to get ourselves fat – feed it bacon! Accordingly we’ll be adding chopped streaky bacon to the mix.

The second thing we can do to make our homemade doner kebabs delicious is to add the correct spices. What are the correct spices? They are the right spices for you. Add the flavours you like, in the quantities you like and omit any that are not to your taste. For ease, I recommend buying a pre-mixed doner kebab mix for your first attempt. From here on you can change up the recipe as you like. Colman’s does a cheap and cheerful sachet of ‘Big Night In Doner Kebab Mix’ that will do the trick. A quick search on Amazon will reveal numerous vendors selling their own mixes all claiming to be the best and most authentic. Alternatively, you can mix up your own blend from ingredients you already have in your spice rack.

The final thing that makes all the difference when making delicious homemade doner kebabs at home is the salad, sauces and the bread. Again, this is all up to you and your own particular tastes. I remember reading somewhere that the late darts legend Eric Bristow enjoyed his kebabs ‘meat-only’, that is, no salad and no bread. He also paired his meal with Gordon’s gin! For me, and for you too I suspect, when it comes to kebabs it’s the salad and sauce that makes the meat! I give some suggestions based upon what I like at the end of the recipe.

Delicious homemade doner kebab recipe

Ingredients: 1 kg minced meat, 400g streaky bacon, half an onion and two cloves of garlic. Spice mix of your choice.

For the meat: You can use minced lamb, beef, pork or chicken or any combination of all four. As I mentioned above, you will be adding streaky bacon to bring up the fat content.

Seasoning: Use a pre-prepared mix or combine one teaspoon each of the following dry powders: paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne, ground coriander, cumin, oregano, garlic, onion, salt and black pepper.

  1. Season the meat and leave to marinate for up to 24 hours in the fridge.
  2. In a food processor, blend into a paste half a chopped onion and two garlic cloves along with 200g of chopped streaky bacon.
  3. Add the meat and blend into a paste. Note: you are looking to achieve a paste; work the meat much more than you would if you were making burgers or meatloaf.
  4. Form the meat into an oblong sausage-shape. Imagine a large tic-tac but made out of 600g of combined meat!
  5. Wrap the meat securely in foil and transfer to the oven, preheated to 180 degrees Celsius.
  6. Cook for an hour and a half. Remove the foil for the final ten minutes of cooking time.
  7. ‘Shave’ rather than slice the meat off the cooked product.
  8. In small batches transfer the shavings to a hot frying pan for around a minute. This will give the meat a delicious texture, especially shavings from the middle which won’t have browned. In addition, it won’t matter if the meat is a little undercooked in the middle because you’ll be finishing it off in the frying pan.

Note: Some people recommend sticking skewers through the foil-wrapped meat and raising the whole thing in the oven by balancing it over an oven-proof dish. Personally, I don’t think it makes much of a difference. I just stick mine on a baking tray and turn it half-way through the cooking time. Having said that, I’ve been known to forget to turn it and it’s still turned out alright (ironic, considering the etymological history of the dish).

For the salads, sauces and garnishes

The two sauces most commonly used to dress a kebab are chilli and garlic. Some people think it’s acceptable to put tomato ketchup on their kebabs. The less said about these people the better.

For a real kebab house experience, you really have to make your own chilli sauce. I make my own because I haven’t found a shop-bought chilli sauce that tastes the same as the stuff you get in the kebab shop. It is not difficult to make but really deserves an entry of its own. Many of the larger supermarkets stock condiments in large plastic bottles you often find in takeaway joints. My recommendation is to seek out some of those and experiment until you find one you like. Places like Poundland often stock them too.

The same applies to the garlic sauce. You can make your own aioli quite easily but it’s still a bit of a hassle. Personally, I usually buy ‘own-brand’ garlic sauce from the supermarket. Be careful here not to buy garlic mayonnaise which is unpleasantly gloopy on a kebab (unless that’s something you enjoy eating!)

Some people enjoy adding tzatziki or hummus to their kebabs. While I’ve happily done the former, for me, hummus is a bit too thick and filling for the kebabs. Both can be easily prepared at home or shop-bought.

For the salad, you can simply add some shredded lettuce, sliced cucumber and tomato. The other day, I noticed that Sainsbury’s were selling whole, pickled green chillies. This means, of course, you can give your guests the authentic kebab house experience of picking them out their kebabs and throwing them away. Tesco’s are now selling bottles of spiced yogurt drizzle that are quite tasty. If you’ve accidentally under seasoned your kebab meat, this drizzle can help cover up the mistake. You find it in the ‘Middle Eastern’ section of their jarred sauces.

I like the sharp kick of something pickled in my kebabs. Accordingly, I’ll add a pickled slaw or some pickled shredded red cabbage. Slices of pickled cucumber go down nicely too. Something I always try to include is a carrot salad of some kind. I first had one of these in a local Turkish restaurant and really enjoyed the flavours with my mixed kebab special! I’ll sign off with the recipe for my version below.

Carrot salad for delicious kebabs at home

People will eat a lot more of this salad than you might expect, so make plenty!

  1. Peel and grate 1kg raw carrots.
  2. Press gently with a clean cloth to absorb some of the moisture.
  3. Chop 3 tablespoons of flat leaf parsley.
  4. Whisk together ¼ cup of olive oil, ¼ cup of lemon juice, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp cayenne.
  5. Mix everything together.